Friday, March 13, 2009

Seminary Reflections: Read any good books lately?

So what have you been reading lately? I’ve been reading God’s Potters: Pastoral Leadership and the Shaping of Congregations by Jackson W. Carroll for my Church Leadership and Administration class. It’s a very interesting read, mostly communicating the results and reflecting upon the massive Pew and Pulpit study of US pastors. I found one chart particularly interesting.
Most-Read Authors in the Mainline Protestant Tradition
(as reported by what pastors deemed the “three authors they most often read”)

  1. Henri J.M. Nouwen
  2. William Willimon
  3. Frederick Buechner
  4. Max Lucado
  5. Eugene Peterson
  6. S. Lewis
  7. Marcus Borg
  8. Lyle Schaller
  9. Philip Yancey
  10. Walter Bruggemann
A few things jump out. First, of course, there are no women on the list (though Barbara Brown Taylor just barely missed it). Second, most of these authors write about ministry or spirituality rather than heavy theology. Third, many of them are getting on in years -- which makes sense regarding the list -- but it also begs the question: who will be on the list ten or twenty years down the road? This all got me to thinking about the many books I’ve read at Columbia Seminary. Curiously, of those who made the Pew and Pulpit list, I think I’ve only been assigned Bruggemann and Borg to read for class -- and both of those very small pieces, not whole books. So, it looks like there’s a rather large difference in what I read in seminary and what I may read as a pastor (curiously, Carroll reports the Roman Catholic priests surveyed read much more theology than protestants).

I guess it makes sense that preparing for ministry requires a different reading list than doing ministry, but I wouldn’t have predicted such a clear shift. In fact, I think a lot of pastors out there would really love to read what we’re reading in Columbia classes, they just don’t for whatever reason or another.
So here, in no particular order, are the top ten books I’ve read for class at Columbia Seminary:
  • Chuck Campbell, “The Word Before the Powers”
  • Wendy Farley, “The Wounding and Healing of Desire”
  • Justo Gonzalez, “The Changing Shape of Church History”
  • David Lose, “Confessing Jesus Christ: Preaching in a Postmodern World”
  • Shirley Guthrie, “Christian Doctrine”
  • Daniel Migliore, “Faith Seeking Understanding”
  • Charlie Cousar, “Galatians”
  • Pauw and Jones, “Feminist and Womanist Essays in Reformed Dogmatics”
  • Marilyn Robinson, “Gilead”
  • Leif Enger, “Peace Like a River”
Boy, that was a tough exercise! I’m already feeling bad for all the great books I left out. Man, there’s been a lot of good ones (and I really do love Calvin, the Book of Order, and Book of Common Worship, but I count them as given). So, what’s your favorite book from seminary, or your favorite author now? Of if you’re not a pastor -- bless you -- and, please share your favs as well.

image by lusi


Stushie said...

Ever since reading in an interview that Barbara Brown Taylor has decided to stay at home on Sundays and have a latte instead of going to church, I've stopped reading her stuff. How can we ever take someone seriously who doesn't regularly attend worship?

Adam Copeland said...

We can take BBT seriously with that in mind. If we can only take seriously those who are just like us than how can we ask others to take ourselves seriously?

Viola Larson said...

My reading is all over the place. I have had a bit of seminary. A class with James Torrance as teacher was great but he hadn't published his book yet so we read his notes which would later be, a book on faith and worship, and the Trinity of course. Worship, Community & the Triune God of Grace.

Another seminary text was for a class I decided not to take but found one of the books very helpful, Christian Theology an Introduction by Alister E. Mcgrath.

But favorite books C.S. Lewis, Eugene Peterson, yes! But also novelist such as Evelyn Waugh and Solzhenitsyn. I could go on but I won’t: )

Elaine said...

My reading is also all over the place. Lately, I've read everything from The Alto Wore Tweed to Ortberg to historical biography and a 1-volume history of the Byzantine empire.

I think the idea of trying to predice future favorite authors from seminarians readings is interesting. We do form a lot of our author allegiances in school.

I've never been to seminary and I am closer to the ages of the people on the first list than the people on the second. HOwever, I have to say that I read more of the first list than the second.

Interesting post. Thanks.

Norman, OKlahoma

Stushie said...

Adam, once you have your own parish, your views may become different.

No hard working congregational pastor that I know wants to have the members sit at home on Sunday mornings. BBT has nothing to say for those who faithfully come to church.

Pastor Beth said...

What?? No N.T. Wright?
BTW, BBT's new book might clear up the question about taking her seriously.

Sarah said...

I'm not a pastor, but I've read something or a great deal of all the authors in the first list, and 3 of the books in the second.

BBT never fails to inspire me. I'd add Brian McLaren, Diana Butler Bass, Phyllis Tickle, Marva Dawn, Graham Standish,Anne Lamott, Tony Campolo--and I'm just getting started. Definitely Buechner!

Gannet Girl said...

Stushie . . . for most of my friends outside of my seminary and spiritual direction programs, regular worship isn't even on the radar screen. If we don't take what they have to say seriously, what's the point of what we do?

Elaine said...

I don't mean to hijack this thread, but I just got back from a week in London and was really surprised at how different it was to try to maintain my own personal spiritual observances in a place where Christianity is much farther off the radar screen than it is in Oklahoma.

Oh, I also agree with a lot of Sarah's list. I think McLaren, Campolo and Tickle will be on everyone's list in 10 years.

Now, connecting these two topics, we as the organized church have got to find ways to connect with people who may be hungry for community; but aren't walking in our doors. That doesn't mean having church in coffee shops. I think it does mean rethinking our concepts of the role of the institution we call church.

Norman, Oklahoma

Viola Larson said...

Isn't there a great deal of difference between taking a theologian seriously and reaching out to those who do not know Jesus Christ and so need our concerns and care?

Stushie said...

I think what I'm trying to say is this: reaching out to people outside of the church and keeping the faithful faithful within the church are two different purposes. One is called revival because it applies to the church; the other is evangelism or outreach because it is done outside of the church.

Whilst I see value in reaching out to people who are unchurched, I see greater value in building up the faith of the already committed, in order to become better ministers, missionaries, and messengers of God's Kingdom. If we are always focused on what's happening outside of the church, we will end up with consumerist Christianity and become prosperity gospel junkies. I see hardly any difference between BBT's laid back latte-drinking solo Christianity and Joel Osteen's sparkling white smiling Christianity. They both serve themselves.

We need to relearn the art of apologetics in its true form which is to stop making the church like the world and more of making the world like the church. Let's never forget that although Christ came to save the world, the Church is actually hallowed as the Bride of Christ.

Viola Larson said...

Amen, Stushie. That was what I was trying to say. Calvin has a lot to say about those who refuse to go to Church. I guess it is an old problem.